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Chicago you are not alone... World-wide support grows for Chicago Teachers Union strike

Publication Date: 2012-09-20

This is from Substance, the only education newspaper of the resistance, Sept. 18, 2012.

Chicago has offered the best pedagogy in the country. They've shown us that it is possible, and right, to rebel.

The already historic Chicago school workersâ strike is still on. As I write this, my understanding is that support for the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 from around the USA and around the world continues to grow, and that readers can learn more about that at the CTU website. This true class war brought to the forefront nearly all of the realities of US schooling today:

  • anti-working class high-stakes exams which donât measure learning but do deepen segregation between teachers and students, and divides each group against itself,

  • merit pay, akin to piece-work bonuses using fudged up science as proofs,

  • the vital role of school as a baby-sitting backup for employers,

  • the relationship of schooling and cruel poverty,

  • the attacks on tenure, seniority, school closures, and, especially, ruthless layoffs in a time when more than 20% of the nation is jobless and 2 million, mostly poorly educated, people are in jail.

  • Moreover, the strike highlights the unity of the wings of the US ruling class on issues that are absolutely critical to them: mis-education, wars, bailouts, and torture. The direct line from Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board composed of Chicagoâs elites, to Arne Duncan, to Obama, and Mitt Romney heaping praise on the Rahm regime is proof enough.

    The courage of Chicagoâs school workers also shattered more than three decades of demoralization in the working class.

    The strike went far beyond the massive, but hollow, Occupy Wall Street movement in showing without question that this is class war with the government acting as an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich, a real corporate state.

    That is more than matched by an organized Chicago Teachers Union which has a broadly democratic hierarchy and knowledgeable, and acknowledged, leaders. In short, while the strike has many ideas--respect, justice, jobs, income, anti-racism and more--its moving idea, imputed or known, is class war.

    In that context, direct action at a critical workplace, indeed the centripetal organizing place of de-industrialized American life, school, shows that nothing moves when labor, in solidarity, walks away and defends the jobs of united members and their allies.

    The strikes' many valuable lessons for students and the entire US population are far more important than another week of drudgery: teaching to the new tests attached to the not-so Common Core.

    The strike united tens of thousands of Chicagoans across lines of race, age, industryâ"those divisions being some of the Achilles' heels of every workersâ movement.

    Despite the deception of the for-profit media, surveys say that a majority of Chicagoans support the strike as wellâ"a result of persistent patient organizing, true organizing, that appeared suddenly in the eyes of the for profit press, but that Substance editors knew would come to fruit long ago. It's a qualitative leap--a philosophy lesson in how things change: quantity becoming quality. Chicago support is so powerful that even Fox News felt compelled to report it.

    As the strike enters week two and the arrogant, also brittle, Rahm Emanuel stages another of his predictable middle-school fits, we can also see what is--and is not--happening, but could happen anyway.

    NEA's convention passed a motion to support the strike last July, as reported in Substance.

    AFT sent President Randi Weingarten to the strike. She mouthed support.

    Joe Biden who spoke enthusiastically to both the NEA and AFT conventions this summer said nothing although his stump speech, Follow the Money! seems appropriate these days.

    Rahm Emanuel insists that Obama backs him: "I want you to understand, the president has weighed in," Emanuel said. "Every issue we're talking about regarding accountability of our schools, quality in our schools to the education of our children, is the core thrust of Race to the Top."

    Little could be more glaring than the fact that Obama single-handedly conducted the second, elephantine, auto bailout without congressional support, but he won't bail out the schools.

    What is not happening is the two big school workers' unions, the National Education Association and the parent body of Chicago's Local One, the America Federation of Teachers, moving fast to support this heroic job action.

    NEA has not sent its rank and file leadership, the NEA Representative Assembly delegates, a single word of support for the strike. Rather, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel ($465,000 a year) travels the nation on a bus tour with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and, sometimes, Obama, to back the Democratic candidate who ratcheted up the Bush No Child Left Behind project in schools with the meth-inspired Race to the Top.

    Now, with the threat of an injunction dangling, the leaders of NEA and AFT who declared a historic partnership in San Diego four years ago (reported in Substance) are not doing what should be done: organizing to spread the strike to other urban areas that AFT represents and, in NEA's case, to areas like LA where a merged local is in place and New York where Weingarten's caucus still runs the show.

    This is not an unknown tactic although, granted, few people in either union remember how to actually lead a real strike. NEA's Local One, the first a la Chicago, a Michigan local north of Detroit, formed as a multiple association bargaining organization. When one local went on strike, as often happened in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, local leaders routinely responded to threats of injunctions with the reality of a much larger strike.

    Be clear: the only illegal strike is a strike that fails. When judges meet masses of organized workers, determined to control their work places, able to take the reins of the value they alone create, the definition of an "illegal strike" can quickly become a legal "Job action against unfair labor practices."

    In addition to backing the strike with spreading direct action, NEA and AFT could take away a prime element of boss' power--hunger and foreclosures. With about 4.3 million organized school workers on the AFT and NEA rolls, even a dollar from each of them, perhaps each adopting a Chicago teacher or family, could erase that threat in 48 hours.

    But NEA and AFT top bosses are not doing that. Why?

    Just as there is a direct line from the strike to the reality of class warfare, so is there a direct line to empire's wars.

    The education agenda is a war agenda: class war and imperialist war.

    Part of the ideological drive to sharpen control over the nation's schools is the very real promise of perpetual war in the midst of an empire that even former dedicated cold war hawk Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his book "Strategic Vision," says is in rapid decay, now organizing chaos.

    Any country engaged in the US' numerous wars, where more than half the total US budget goes to warfare (the known budget, setting aside the unknown, like the Central Intelligence Agency--the President's private army) would want, to one degree or another, to use schools as human munition factories promoting witless forms of patriotism and, especially, in the words of Chalmers Johnson, teach so little history that "Americans cannot connect cause and effect."

    To a degree, that worked, and to an equally powerful degree, the strike counters that, blows back hard.

    What does that have to do with the NEA and AFT lack of support for the school workers marching on picket lines when, as we know, nearly every teacher-strike has this in mind: "I Don't Want to Strike, But I Will"?


    NEA and AFT tops are determined to elect Obama, above all else. The electoral campaign is disrupted by the "embarrassing" strike. Teachers, who typically give Democrats tens of thousand of volunteer hours--the unions give them hundreds of million of dollars--might decide not to vote Obama.

    Why this devotion to electoral work? Because it keeps the members, who commonly believe in it, busy, it creates a spectacle, and serves as a reason for the labor leaders to exist. Nobody, however, ever voted the rich out of their money as the wife of Chicago's Albert Parsons, Lucy, said again and again.

    The last thing NEA and AFT's upper national ranks want is a mass, class conscious movement, a la Chicago, growing up around them.

    Why? Because it would make them irrelevant. Their job depends on selling labor peace, the work of their members to employers (who these leaders describe as partners) in exchange for dues income. That is precisely the historical exchange: domesticated labor for the life of a contract for money--the money that in part pays Van Roekel that $465 thousand and probably made former NEA president, Reg Weaver a millionaire--$696,949 in his last year of office.

    That, however, is not their only source of income and they know it. While they sell neutralized schooling, they also sell, and get paid for, the empires wars.

    NEA and AFT's heads serve on bodies like the National Endowment for Democracy, little more than a front for the CIA. Substance editor George Schmidt's book on that, "The AFT and the CIA," would be a useful primer for doubters.

    NEA's Reg Weaver retired at another connected group, Education International, the inheritor of the cold war's CIA run international teacher union. He was joined there by other former NEA and AFT presidents, their salaries unknown.

    Why do that? Why be Quislings and sit in friendly circumstances with ruthless killer spies of the empire?

    For the same reason the American Federation of Labor has done it for a hundred years and more: The idea that if other nationsâ workers do worse, US workers will do better. It is something of an extension of the old AFL idea that excluding workers from the craft jobs they controlled, like black workers and women especially, those who had the jobs would do better.

    It's never worked, but it worked well for those exploiting the ideaâ"those labor bosses who deny the contradictory interests of employers and employees and, instead declare their unity--shattering the very reason most people think unions exist.

    So, the structures of NEA and AFT, or the entire AFL-CIO, are not going to do us much good.

    But, Chicago, you are not alone.

    We have learned from each of you and your solidarity. It's the best pedagogy in the country now. We have seen that it is possible, and right, to rebel. We know that to develop real solidarity, united workers with clear ideas will need to boil up within the unions, as organizing boiled over in Chicago. Your battle has been inspiring, heartening, and if you choose to fight on, there are millions of school workers, professors, students, and community people who are behind you--if necessary with money. We know paychecks run out very soon. The one thing we can, certain, do is pony up and send you some cash. Just show us how.

    And, we will know, if not now, in the future, that the way to support strikers is to spread the strike.

    Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor of education at San Diego State University and co-founder of the Rouge Forum.


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